New study sheds light on the origin of the European Jewish population

Khazar fortress at Sarkel : Wiki Commons

Despite being one of the most genetically analysed groups, the origin of European Jews has remained obscure.

However, a new study published online today (Thursday) in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution by Dr Eran Elhaik, a geneticist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, argues that the European Jewish genome is a mosaic of Caucasus, European, and Semitic ancestries, setting to rest previous contradictory reports of Jewish ancestry. Elhaik’s findings strongly support the Khazarian Hypothesis, as opposed to the Rhineland Hypothesis, of European Jewish origins. This could have a major impact on the ways in which scientists study genetic disorders within the population.

The Rhineland Hypothesis has been the favoured explanation for the origins of present-day European Jews, until now. In this scenario Jews descended from Israelite-Canaanite tribes left the Holy Land for Europe in the 7th century, following the Muslim conquest of Palestine. Then, in the beginning of the 15th century, a group of approximately 50,000 left Germany, the Rhineland, for the east.

There they maintained high endogamy, and despite wars, persecution, disease, plagues, and economic hardships, their population expanded rapidly to around 8 million in the 20th century. Due to the implausibility of such an event, this rapid expansion was explained by Prof Harry Ostrer, Dr Gil Atzmon, and colleagues as a miracle [1]. Under the Rhineland Hypothesis, European Jews would be very similar to each other and would have a predominant Middle Eastern ancestry.

The rival explanation, the Khazarian Hypothesis, states that the Jewish-convert Khazars – a confederation of Turkic, Iranian, and Mongol tribes who lived in what is now Southern Russia, north of Georgia and east of Ukraine, and who converted to Judaism between the 7th and 9th centuries – along with groups of Mesopotamian and Greco-Roman Jews, formed the basis of eastern Europe’s Jewish population when they fled eastward, following the collapse of their empire in the 13th century.

European Jews are thus expected to exhibit heterogeneity between different communities. While there is no doubt that the Judeo-Khazars fled into Eastern Europe and contributed to the establishment of Eastern European Jewry, argument has revolved around the magnitude of that contribution.

Dr Elhaik’s paper, ‘The missing link of Jewish European ancestry: contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses’, examined a comprehensive dataset of 1,287 unrelated individuals of 8 Jewish and 74 non-Jewish populations genotyped over 531,315 autosomal single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). This was data published by Doron Behar and colleagues in 2010 [2], which Elhaik used to calculate seven measures of ancestry, relatedness, admixture, allele sharing distances, geographical origins, and migration patterns. These identified the Caucasus-Near Eastern and European ancestral signatures in the European Jews’ genome along with a smaller, but substantial Middle Eastern genome.

The results were consistent in depicting a Caucasus ancestry for all European Jews. The analysis showed a tight genetic relationship between European Jews and Caucasus populations and pinpointed the biogeographic origin of the European Jews to the south of Khazaria, 560 kilometers from Samandar –Khazaria’s capital city. Further analyses yielded a complex multi-ethnical ancestry with a slightly dominant Caucasus -Near Eastern, large South European and Middle Eastern ancestries, and a minor Eastern European contribution.

Dr Elhaik writes, “The most parsimonious explanation for our findings is that Eastern European Jews are of Judeo-Khazarian ancestry forged over many centuries in the Caucasus. Jewish presence in the Caucasus and later Khazaria was recorded as early as the late centuries BCE and reinforced due to the increase in trade along the Silk Road, the decline of Judah (1st-7th centuries), and the rise of Christianity and Islam. Greco-Roman and Mesopotamian Jews gravitating toward Khazaria were also common in the early centuries and their migrations were intensified following the Khazars’ conversion to Judaism…

The religious conversion of the Khazars encompassed most of the Empire’s citizens and subordinate tribes and lasted for the next 400 years [3, 4] until the invasion of the Mongols. At the final collapse of their empire in the 13th century, many of the Judeo-Khazars fled to Eastern Europe and later migrated to Central Europe and admixed with the neighbouring populations.”

Dr Elhaik’s findings consolidate otherwise conflicting results describing high heterogeneity among Jewish communities and relatedness to Middle Eastern, Southern European, and Caucasus populations that are not explained under the Rhineland Hypothesis.

Although Dr Elhaik’s study linked European Jews to the Khazars, there are still questions to be answered. How substantial is the Iranian ancestry in modern day Jews? Since Eastern European Jews arrived from the Caucasus, where did Central and Western European Jews come from? If there was no mass migration out of Palestine at the 7th century, what happened to the ancient Judeans?

And crucially for Dr Elhaik, how would these new findings affect disease studies on Jews and Eurasian populations?

“Epidemiologists studying genetic disorders are constantly struggling with questions regarding ancestry, heterogeneity, and how to account for them,” he says. “I hope this work will open up a new era in genetic studies where population stratification will be used more correctly.”

Works cited:

[1] Atzmon, G., et al., Abraham’s children in the genome era: major Jewish diaspora populations comprise distinct genetic clusters with shared Middle Eastern Ancestry. American Journal of Human Genetics, 2010. 86(6): p. 850-9

[2] ‘The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people’ by  Doron M. Behar, Bayazit Yunusbayev, Mait Metspalu, Ene Metspalu, Saharon Rosset, Jüri Parik, Siiri Rootsi, Gyaneshwer Chaubey, Ildus Kutuev, Guennady Yudkovsky, Elza K. Khusnutdinova, Oleg Balanovsky, Ornella Semino, Luisa Pereira, David Comas, David Gurwitz, Batsheva Bonne-Tamir, Tudor Parfitt, Michael F. Hammer, Karl Skorecki & Richard Villems. Nature, 466, 238–242 (08 July 2010).

[3] Polak, A.N., Khazaria – The History of a Jewish Kingdom in Europe (Tel-Aviv, Israel: Mosad Bialik and Massada Publishing Company, 1951) [in Hebrew]

[4] Baron, S.W., A Social and Religious History of the Jews, Vol. 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993)

Contributing Source : Oxford Journals

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  • mothman777

    The following research demonstrates that the Khazarian Jews were people who were originally Israeli followers of the Judaic religion in the first place, before leaving their land, who were then readmitted to their earlier religion together, just as many Christians and others around the world who can demonstrate Jewish family history and genome are then considered by the Jewish religion to have the right to 'make Aliyah' or return to Israel as Jews.

    I think Dr Skorecki has the most definite answer, as the true answer to this puzzle lies indisputably in the genome of the Ashkenazi people, which has also been confirmed in another study as being the same as the Palestinians of today, demonstrating the common origins of Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Palestinians, placing them all together in what is called Israel today over 3,300 years ago.

    "Kohanim's Genetic Link and Direct Lineage from a Common Ancestor

    "Dr. Karl Skorecki's Research

    "From Lisa Katz, former Guide

    "In Sunday school we were told that all Kohanim are direct descendants of Moses’ brother Aharon. And we learned that the patrilineal line of the Kohanim has been passed from father to son since the time of Aharon – 3,300 years ago or for more than 100 generations. Little Karl must have been one of those kids in Hebrew school who felt the need to question.

    "Years later, after little Karl became Dr. Karl Skorecki – director of Nephrology and Molecular Medicine at the Technion Faculty of Medicine, he decided to test the idea that he and other Kohanim worldwide share a common ancestor. If Kohanim are descendants of one man, they should have a common set of genetic markers–that of their common ancestor Aharon HaKohen — at a higher frequency than the general Jewish population.

    "Skorecki’s tests found that a particular array of six chromosomal markers were found in 97 of the 106 Kohens tested. This collection of markers has come to be known as the Cohen Modal Haplotype (CMH). The chances of these findings happening at random is greater than one in 10,000.

    "The finding of a common set of genetic markers in both Ashkenazi and Sefardi Kohanim worldwide indicates an origin pre-dating the separate development of the two communities around 1000 C.E. Date calculation based on the variation of the mutations among Kohanim today yields a time frame of 106 generations from the ancestral founder of the line, some 3,300 years, the approximate time of the Exodus from Egypt, the lifetime of Aharon HaKohen.

    "Skorecki’s research has provided scientific proof of a clear genetic relationship amongst Kohanim and their direct lineage from a common ancestor."

  • paul maleski

    There is one important component missing in Dr. Elhaik's research and that is the racial/genetic origins of the pre-Jewish Khazars. It is obvious that European Ashkenazi jews look and behave differently to Semitic Sephardi
    jews and Palestinian Semites. This can be characterized by their high levels of aggression, paranoia, hypochondria and fervent tribalism. This can be explained in part; by 1000 years plus of chronic inbreeding, throughout Slavic Europe; which would account for a plethora of genetic defects among the Ashkenazis and the survival of the 'shiftiest' those who lived by their wits as opposed to physical toil.
    These double-dealing traits can work miracles in: Hollywood, the American media and Wall Street. Ethiopian jews in these core cultural and financial sectors are conspicuous by their absence. One of the last strongholds of the Neandertals was the Caucasus region. Might not the bellicosity of the Georgian Christians, the excitability of Azeri Moslems and the Khazar jews' obsession with purity of blood; be the result of cross-species breeding between homo sapiens and Neandertals. The outcome of this unnatural union would be the Slakhtal Ashkenazi (Slav, Khazar and Neandertal leftovers.) You got to admit that Abe Foxman and Amy Winehouse don't look kosher homo sapien!

  • paul maleski

    Ashkenazi=Slakhtal. A product of chronic inbreeding, incest and cannibalism, over the past 12 centuries; between: Neandertals, Khazars and the occasional Slav. Nothing more nothing less. It ain’t rocket science,  I will leave that up to Tsiolkovsky  and Goddard. This is why the  jew is obsessed with all that is unnatural, for they were born to destroy–‘itsinum’. Don’t believe me, never listen to what they say just observe what they do! For they are the ‘Masters of the Lie’.